The ongoing murders of unarmed black people by white policemen are stark reminders of America’s centuries-old tradition of brutalizing black bodies and souls. This violent American pastime will not end until more white people stop stubbornly and even callously refuse to accept the consequences of our nation’s racist history, deny the white privilege it has provided us, and fail to stand with our African American brothers and sisters against a system designed to oppress them.
But what makes these racist murders different than the untold number preceding them has been the ongoing nationwide wave of protests composed of Americans of every creed and color – suggesting a new multi-ethnic movement for racial justice is emerging.
White privilege is defined “as an unearned advantage and benefit given to white people based on a system that was normalized on the experiences, values and perceptions of white people.” I lived this life of white privilege, enjoying all its trappings. I was educated in a whites only segregated academy created in the South in response to desegregation, attended an elite southern university, earning a degree that my parents paid for. I ran in a circle of other white privileged people whose connections later would benefit me greatly.
My ancestor, Edmund Pendleton, who was George Washington’s personal lawyer, contributed greatly to this appalling legacy. Pendleton was the acting Revolutionary governor of Virginia and along with Thomas Jefferson and others, revised Virginia’s legal code after the Revolution, codifying slavery into American law.
Haunted by my families’ slave-owning past, I directed a documentary feature film, “The Long Shadow” to tell the hidden story of our nation’s original sin and the integral role historical revisionism, and white privilege and apathy have played in preventing fundamental change. What I learned in making this film is that Black people will never overcome a system designed to oppress them, until more white people transition from “I’m not a racist” to “I’m anti-racist”.
It was not easy for me to come to terms with my own white privilege and then make the transition to an anti-racist. White guilt is pointless, as are feelings of blame for atrocities you did not commit. What matters is understanding that systemic racism has benefited us to the detriment of those whom many of our ancestors enslaved.
As I researched my family’s history, I discovered gaping holes in the patriotic myths surrounding our nation’s founding. As the U.S. itself was forming, the fight to preserve slavery was one of the driving forces behind the Revolutionary War. But all we ever heard in our 7th-grade history classes was that our desire for freedom from British oppression and taxation was the main catalyst for our war for independence.
Also untaught in our schools, and largely unknown to most Americans, include: Police were originally slave patrols, deputized to catch escaped slaves. Wall Street and U.S. insurance companies mortgaged and insured slaves. Many slave owners received reparations from the U.S. government when their slaves were freed. And the list goes on and on.
The continued exploitation, deprivation, and murder of African Americans has robbed generations of the hope and opportunity to realize their dreams. We have an urgent responsibility to help heal the nation and support the human, social and economic rights black people have been denied.
One way to show solidarity with our black brothers and sisters and put an end to white cops going unpunished for killing unarmed African Americans is to support the demands made by Black Lives Matter and dozens of other organizations committed to racial justice. Included among them are:
· Reduce police power and cut their enormous budgets and invest that money in community-led health and safety solutions instead.
· Invest trillions in repairing the damage done and opportunities denied to black people and commit those resources to the education, health, and safety of black people and the families and communities who have suffered most.
The U.S. doled out trillions of dollars in bailouts to Wall Street in a span of weeks in the wake of Covid-19. We should do nothing less for Black people considering the systems of oppression they have endured for so long.
Until we enact policies that sufficiently address slavery and its aftermath, police will continue to abuse and kill black people, protests will increase, and our racial divide will worsen. More tanks, rubber bullets, and baton beatings will not solve a problem white America created 400 years ago.